Crew Error

According to this report from the sad case of HMAS Ballarat running aground at Christmas Island points to human error I had posted earlier on this incident and said then it was a bad career move. I could be right if todays news release at is anything to go by. ballarat2.jpg HMAS Ballarat Ian McPhedran, defence reporter writes,
A series of errors prompted the computer system to over-ride manual commands and the ship’s company had to stand by and watch as HMAS Ballarat backed on to the rocky shoreline.
Well, that’s it then, I thought. The Navy have obviously held their inquiry and found the cause to be Human error. But wait, the inquiry is not due to start until later in February!
A public board of inquiry will be conducted from February 22 and the ship’s captain could face a court-martial.
It looks to me like the Captain and crew have already been found guilty by the press. Readers from the legal proffessions may comment here, but this simple layman thinks the inquiry is now prejudiced. Is this too much information to release prior to an inquiry? Seems like it to me.

One comment

  • They seem to be pretty clearly declared guilty in the article. The phrases “crew error” and “series of errors” don’t leave much doubt about where the author of the article believes the fault lies. While I think that the hearing will be fair, I have my doubts about how fairly the proceedings of that hearing will be reported, if this article is anything to go by.

    Take for example the way it twice states that the ships computer had to “override” the crew commands, implying they had gotten things so wrong that it was forced to take over. I develop computer systems, and this is the completely wrong thing for it to do. There is no way the programmers of the computer could possibly predict every situation that a warship will ever encounter, all it should do if it thinks that an error is being made, is suggest it to the operator, so that they can reconsider if necessary. If it actually is programmed to take over when it thinks an error is being made, then the developers should be in much more trouble than the crew.

    Later in the article it is actually explained that the system froze. This means it was unable to receive operator commands, not that it was overriding them. In this case, it is not unreasonable for the computer, unable to receive instructions telling it how to handle the situation, fell back on an emergency routine intended to bring it to a stop.

    According to the article, the turn was “impossible” with only one engine running. What I would like to know is if it literally was impossible, or just unlikely to succeed. It seems to me that the crew wouldn’t have tried it if they thought it wouldn’t work.

    My guess is that at some point during their training, they probably were told that the ship wasn’t designed to perform a turn like that without at least two engines running. However given their choices, maintain course and hit the mooring line, probably also hitting the boat moored to the line, trying to stop (which is what it seems the computer tried unsuccessfully to do, indicating they probably would have had trouble doing it as well), or attempting the turn, I don’t know that it was entirely unreasonable for them to have tried it.

    While their actions to avoid the collision may have been reasonable given the circumstances, the way they got themselves into that position in the first place seems to me to be the biggest issue. You aren’t supposed to put yourself into a position where you require your equipment to perform miracles for you.